EPA plans to complete reviews of Gold King Mine spill soon

March 13, 2018

The long saga left behind by the spill from the Gold King Mine in 2015 continues as U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt announced that he expects to have reviewed by month’s end a stack of about 400 claims filed mostly by residents of Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and the Navajo Nation over damages they sustained during the 2015 Gold King Mine disaster.

The Denver Post reported that the move does not necessarily mean those who have filed claims should be expecting a check soon. Pruitt and his staff didn’t give a timeline for when the government might pay up for the government’s role in releasing 3 million gallons of contaminated water into the Animas River watershed near Silverton, CO.

But Pruitt said that he and the legal team at the EPA are aiming to make recommendations on all 400 claims, including about 70 that initially were rejected by the EPA on the grounds the agency had sovereign immunity from this kind of legal action by the end March.

“This agency, and more particularly the U.S. government, caused harm to citizens in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah and it had not taken steps to address that,” said Pruitt, speaking to reporters in his Washington, D.C., office.

The accident occurred in 2015 when a team led by the EPA accidentally breached the mine, spilling more than 3 million gallons of water.

The workers were there to examine ongoing leaks from the Gold King Mine — which already was discharging about 3 million gallons every 10 days, according to one government report — however, the bright-colored spill and the EPA’s role drew national attention.

EPA officials said the claims — filed by businesses, residents and local governments — range from about $100 into the tens of millions of dollars. If the amount of a successful claim is less than $2,500, the money will come from the EPA. Anything more than that would come from a special federal fund created to pay out claims against the government.

Pruitt added that he’s talked to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions because he said the “amount of some these claims” requires approval from the Justice Department.

“It isn’t something exclusively that we can do on our own,” said Pruitt, who added that the types of grievances run the gamut. “We have a wide array of claims: recreation and business owners, those that were impacted from a vacation perspective, landowners, farmers and ranchers.”

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